In the past decade, Election Systems & Software (E.S. & S.), the largest manufacturer of voting machines in the country, has routinely wined and dined a select group of state-election brass, which the company called an “advisory board,” offering them airfare on trips to places like Las Vegas and New York, upscale-hotel accommodations, and tickets to live events. Among the recipients of this largesse, according to an investigation by McClatchy published last year, was David Dove, the chief of staff to Georgia’s then secretary of state, Brian Kemp. Kemp, the new governor of Georgia, made news in the midterm elections for his efforts to keep people of color from voting and for overseeing his own election. In March of 2017, when Dove attended an E.S. & S. junket in Las Vegas, Kemp’s office was in the market to replace the state’s entire inventory of voting machines. “It’s highly inappropriate for any election official to be accepting anything of value from a primary contractor,” Virginia Canter, the chief ethics officer at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told McClatchy. “It shocks the conscience.” (Kathy Rogers, E.S. & S.’s senior vice-president for governmental affairs, told McClatchy that there was nothing untoward about the advisory board, which she said has been “immensely valuable in providing customer feedback.”)
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has filed a civil complaint accusing Russia of trying to hack its computers as recently as November 2018. In its court filing, the DNC argues that not only did the campaign and several Trump operatives collude with Russia to steal electronic information, but that Russia was still attempting to hack DNC systems in the run up to last year’s midterm elections. The filing describes an alleged Russian cyberattack campaign that began in July 2015 and which stole information after a hack in April 2016, when the Russians allegedly placed proprietary malware known as X-Agent on the DNC network. It claims that they monitored the malware in real time and collected data including key logs and screenshots. Using malware called X-Tunnel, the hackers exfiltrated several gigabytes of DNC data over the following days to a computer located in Illinois leased by agents of Russia’s GRU military unit, it says. Russian operatives then placed a version of X-Agent on a DNC server in June that year and hacked DNC virtual machines hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS) in September to steal voter data, the filing also alleges.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats had cautioned that “the warning lights are blinking red again,” and experts warned that voting systems, in particular, could be at risk. Russia had likely targeted them in all 50 states in 2016 and had gained access to voter-registration files in Illinois and Arizona. But despite myriad concerns about vulnerabilities—from voting machines to tabulation systems to phishing attacks on campaigns—election hacking, by and large, did not factor in the 2018 elections. A recent report from Coats’ office to the White House confirmed as much: U.S. intelligence officials had no evidence that voting systems had been compromised, although social-media disinformation aimed at American voters had continued apace. “The Russians didn’t need to do much in 2018. They enjoy all the turmoil in the U.S. and probably take credit for 2016 outcomes,” said James Lewis, senior vice president and director of the Technology Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Midterms are confusing and the Russians probably couldn’t figure out the pressure points to swing voters. If they have new tricks, they are saving them for 2020.”
National: Moscow Skyscraper Talks Continued Through ‘the Day I Won,’ Trump Is Said to Acknowledge | The New York Times
President Trump was involved in discussions to build a skyscraper in Moscow throughout the entire 2016 presidential campaign, his personal lawyer said on Sunday, a longer and more significant role for Mr. Trump than he had previously acknowledged. The comments by his lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani indicated that Mr. Trump’s efforts to complete a business deal in Russia waned only after Americans cast ballots in the presidential election. The new timetable means that Mr. Trump was seeking a deal at the time he was calling for an end to economic sanctions against Russia imposed by the Obama administration. He was seeking a deal when he gave interviews questioning the legitimacy of NATO, a favorite talking point of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. And he was seeking a deal when, in July 2016, he called on Russia to release hacked Democratic emails that Mr. Putin’s government was rumored at the time to have stolen. The Trump Tower Moscow discussions were “going on from the day I announced to the day I won,” Mr. Giuliani quoted Mr. Trump as saying during an interview with The New York Times. It was one of a flurry of interviews Mr. Giuliani did on Sunday amid fallout from a disputed report by BuzzFeed News that President Trump had personally directed his former lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, to lie to Congress about the negotiations over the skyscraper.
The 116th Congress may have difficulty finding common ground on most issues. But there is at least one area that presents the opportunity for bipartisan action: cybersecurity. Cyber threats do not discriminate based on party affiliation. There are four key issues within cybersecurity where this Congress has the potential to make progress with impactful legislation that would make all Americans — and our democracy — more secure. The Department of Homeland Security has made considerable progress on election security over the past 18 months. But, with 10,000 local jurisdictions responsible not just for administering elections but now for protecting our democracy against nation-state threat actors, more must be done. The answer does not lie in funding alone. Paper ballots paired with risk-limiting audits are critical; and Congress should take a hard look at the vendors who play an outsized role in our democracy. We also must share expertise and training across jurisdictions and ensure that jurisdictions are prepared to recover in the face of a cyberattack. The election security provisions in the House Democrats’ first bill are an excellent start and should not fall way to partisan rancor.
Editorials: The Voting Rights Act is in tatters. Let’s honor King’s legacy by saving it. | David Gans/The Washington Post
Amid all the paeans to the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that will be published today, it’s vital to note that at this moment perhaps his most important legacy — his struggle to ensure the full realization of voting rights for all Americans — is under greater threat than at any time since his death. King, who would have turned 90 this year, was a tireless advocate for freedom, equality and democracy. He urged the nation to revitalize the amendments added to the Constitution after the Civil War — what he called the “full pledge of freedom” — to ensure equal citizenship for all. Even as a teenager, he spoke eloquently for the “13 million black sons and daughters of our forefathers” who “continue the fight for the translation of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments from writing on the printed page to an actuality.” At the center of King’s campaign for freedom was ending racial discrimination in voting. Over the course of his life, he demanded, time and again, “give us the ballot.” The right to vote was a core fundamental right: “To deny a person the right to exercise his political freedom at the polls is no less a dastardly act as to deny a Christian the right to petition God in prayer.”
Election commissioners in Jefferson County are at an impasse over the need to replace the county’s antiquated voting machines and the cost to replace them. The county currently uses iVotronics voting machines and software supplied by Election Systems & Software in its 39 polling sites. It owns about 150 machines that are kept in the Election Commission office in Pine Bluff. Commissioner Stu Soffer recently presented a proposal from Election Systems & Software for the purchase of 140 ExpressVote voting machines, the latest model of electronic voting machines available from the company. Included in the proposal were 140 ExpressVote kiosks, 43 model DS200 vote tabulators, 74 printers and 74 tablet computers, as well as all related software and training.The total cost for the hardware, software and support services included in the proposal was $882,361,52. Post-warranty license, maintenance and support fees would add an additional $42,201 annually.
Florida: DeSantis rescinds Rick Scott’s suspension of Broward County elections supervisor Brenda Snipes | Miami Herald
Brenda Snipes received about the closest thing to an apology she’s likely to get from Florida’s governor, when Ron DeSantis on Friday rescinded his predecessor’s suspension of the former Broward County elections supervisor. But that doesn’t mean she’s getting her job back. In an executive order, DeSantis voided a Nov. 30 directive issued by former Gov. Rick Scott removing Snipes from office. DeSantis said he was instead accepting the Jan. 4 resignation that Snipes had submitted on the final day of a controversial midterm election recount, granting her the soft exit she’d wanted (albeit without the quiet goodbye).
Georgia: Suit dismissed that challenged results of lieutenant governor race | Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A Cobb County Superior Court judge on Friday dismissed a case contesting the election of Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. Senior Judge Adele Grubbs said while she “respected” the argument there may be some issues with the entire voting system, the plaintiffs did not prove specific problems with the recording of ballots in the lieutenant governor’s race that would alter the outcome of the election. The plaintiffs in the case said they plan to appeal. Attorneys for the plaintiffs tried to prove that a drop-off in votes cast in the lieutenant governor’s race indicated the election between Duncan, a Republican, and Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico was caused by malfunctioning voting machines. Duncan won by more than 123,000 votes.
Indiana: Election fixes: Officials exploring how to proceed after report says ES&S violated law | Daily Journal
More details about the fixes put in place on Election Day in November when voting technology failed to perform have come to light, and officials are asking the county commissioners to adopt a detailed list of mostly technical and financial suggestions about what to do in the future. Election Systems & Software is still the county’s election vendor, and will be providing services in the municipal elections in May and November of this year, according to its current contract with the county. But whether the county will retain the company for future elections has not been determined.
A big piece of Kris Kobach’s legacy appears to be on its way out as Kansas lawmakers move forward on parallel tracks to repeal the authority of the secretary of state to prosecute election crimes. The House Judiciary Committee is considering one bill to do that, introduced by Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita. The House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice is considering a slightly different version requested by Attorney General Derek Schmidt last week. Either would revoke the authority the secretary of state now has to take people to court if they violate laws related to voting. Kobach, a lawyer, fought for years to get that authority when he served in the post, finally winning the battle in 2015. He was convinced that it held the key to stop what he believed was widespread fraudulent voting by illegal immigrants.
A pending settlement proposal in a federal lawsuit alleging unfair bias in political district maps will be limited in scope but could still give Democrats a narrow chance to upend Republican majorities in the Michigan Legislature. The suit alleges that maps approved by GOP majority lawmakers in 2011 intentionally diluted the power of Democratic voters. New Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and plaintiffs are negotiating “a compromise in which fewer than” 34 of the state’s 162 congressional and legislative districts would be redrawn for 2020 elections, according to a new filing. It’s not clear if proposed changes would have a ripple effect and impact other adjacent districts.
North Carolina: GOP, Democrats make closing arguments before 9th District dispute heads to court | WRAL
Republican and Democratic officials held dueling news conferences in Raleigh on Monday regarding the disputed 9th Congressional District election, one day before a court hearing that could decide the winner in the race. Republican candidate Mark Harris is asking a judge to issue a writ of mandamus, which would essentially order the State Board of Elections to certify the results of the 9th District election and declare him the winner. He is recovering from an infection and said Monday he won’t be able to attend Tuesday morning’s court hearing. Harris led Democrat Dan McCready by about 900 votes following the election, but the state board has refused to certify the results because of suspicious absentee voting results in Bladen and Robeson counties. Harris has acknowledged hiring Bladen County political operative McCrae Dowless to oversee absentee ballot operations in the county. Several people have told reporters that Dowless paid them to pick up mail-in ballots, a felony under North Carolina law due to tampering concerns.
The Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico recommended the Government of Puerto Rico to take steps to “adjust the operations” of the island’s State Elections Commission (CEE by its Spanish intials) to “fluctuate with the electoral cycle” and restructure its organization to become more efficient. In a letter to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and House Speaker Carlos Méndez Núñez, the board said the CEE’s operations “do not match the needs that it serves or the fiscal reality of the Island.” “The CEE should be most active in the year leading up to an election but can and should significantly reduce its operations in the remaining three years of an electoral cycle. This is what comparable electoral commissions do in most states” Chairman José Carrión wrote in the letter.
Supporters of a push to create an independent redistricting commission in Utah are steeling themselves for a potential challenge to the ballot initiative that voters narrowly passed into law last year. Leaders of the effort aimed at combatting gerrymandering say they’re staying vigilant amid talk of a possible lawsuit to challenge the voter-approved law, the Deseret News reports. “We’re going to be vigilant. We’re going to be present. And we’re prepared through either a campaign or legal means to defend that,” said Jeff Wright, a Republican who co-chairs the group behind Proposition 4.
In 2016, an Instagram account called @army_of_jesus_ posted an image of the son of God, imploring viewers to “like if you believe” or “keep scrolling if you don’t”. It received almost 88,000 likes. The account, as revealed later by security researchers, was run by Russian internet trolls. While much attention has been paid to attempts to influence the 2016 US presidential election on Facebook and Twitter, the role of the image-based social media platform has been largely overlooked. In fact, according to two recent reports, Instagram became the platform of choice for Russia’s infamous Internet Research Agency (IRA).
The Constitutional Court of the Democratic Republic of Congo ruled early Sunday on the results of the country’s highly contested election, determining that the opposition candidate Félix Tshisekedi was in fact the winner and rejecting a challenge from another opposition figure who was the runner-up. The court’s decision affirmed the results announced by the country’s electoral commission, which appointed Mr. Tshisekedi as the president-elect. He is set to be inaugurated on Tuesday. Martin Fayulu, the runner-up, was contesting the results and demanding a manual recount. The judges of the constitutional court said they had determined that the request for a recount was “absurd” and that Mr. Fayulu had not provided any proof of fraud. Mr. Fayulu said early Sunday that the court has “falsified and countered the truth of the polls to serve an unjust cause and perpetuate a regime that our people hate.” “I now consider myself the only legitimate president,” he added.
Facebook Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said the company will work with the German ministry for information security in a broad effort to guide policy here and throughout Europe on election interference. The collaboration will build upon previous work between the social network and the regulator during the 2017 federal elections in Germany, Ms. Sandberg said. The effort is part of continued work by Facebook to strengthen its platform against interference. The Integrity & Security Initiative will be a cooperation between Facebook, the German office and other companies and research partners, Ms. Sandberg said, ahead of European Union parliamentary elections this spring. The German cybersecurity watchdog will spearhead the initiative, a person familiar with the matter said. A spokesman for the German Federal Office for Information Security didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. It wasn’t immediately clear which other companies or researchers may be participating in the initiative.
India: Electronic Voting Machines hacked in 2014, claims US-based Indian ‘cyber expert’; EC rejects allegations | Hindustan Times
A man claiming to be a cyber expert and a former employee of the Electronic Corporation of India Ltd on Monday made a series of unsubstantiated allegations about the vulnerability of electronic voting machines used in India, including in the 2014 general election. The man, named as Syed Shuja of Hyderabad origin, appeared at a news conference through Skype. He said he was based in the United States, where he got political asylum after fleeing India due to threats to his life and allegedly in a serious medical condition in 2014. According to Shuja, who said he also went by other names, 200 seats in the 2014 elections that would have been won by the Congress had been rigged in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party by manipulating data transmission through what he called ‘military-grade modulators’ installed in various parts of the country.
As Israeli elections approach, the country’s cyber-security watchdogs are warning about attempts by foreign actors to disrupt and manipulate this essential democratic process. The issue came to the fore earlier in January, when the head of the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency, Nadav Argaman, reportedly told a closed-door conference that a “foreign state is planning to intervene in the elections. I don’t know at this stage in favor of whom or at whose detriment,” the intelligence chief said, adding, “I know what I’m talking about.” Thought Argaman did not mention it by name, Russia responded days later through a Kremlin spokesman, who stated that Moscow does not intervene in the elections of other countries and even advised others to refrain “from reading the Israeli media.”
Rival groups held demonstrations in Thailand’s capital on Saturday, with hundreds of people demanding quick elections to end military rule and a much smaller group of pro-junta supporters saying it was too soon for a vote. The competing protests were tiny compared to those that paralyzed Bangkok in 2014 before the army seized power in the name of ending instability, but were an indication of the tensions in the run-up to a long-delayed ballot. No date has been set for an election which was first promised for 2015 and most recently postponed from Feb. 24. Hundreds joined a demonstration calling for elections on March 10.